For many small businesses, late payments from customers and clients are not only problematic, but can feel like a depressing inevitability. A 2016 study by Ormsby Street revealed that only four out of every ten new small businesses are still trading after five years, with poor cash flow resulting from late payments being one of the main causes for businesses failing. Prior to last year’s snap general election, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also highlighted the issue, pledging in a speech at the Federation of Small Businesses to “declare war on late payment”, particularly highlighting the problem of large, well-established firms withholding payments from smaller businesses in their supply chain.
Small Business Advice Week takes a look at just how damaging late payments can be, and how to avoid them.
The Problem of Late Payments
Whatever way you look at it, late payments are a problem. When payment terms have been agreed in advance, both parties have an obligation to stick to those terms – and that applies equally whether the payer is an individual customer or client, or another business. So how can small businesses start saying “no” to late payments? One solution could be to move to collecting payments by Direct Debit.
There are two reasons why big businesses such as energy providers and phone companies prefer payment by Direct Debit: 1) it helps them be in control of their cash flow and 2) it is more convenient for the customer. Yes, there is still scope for payments to be missed due to insufficient funds in the payer’s account, but for the most part it means these businesses know how much money is coming in, and when. This helps ensure healthy cash flow and ultimately that makes every aspect of running a business and forward planning that much easier. And this is no less true for smaller businesses.
How you can Start Saying ‘No’ to Late Payments
But how do you start saying ‘no’? It may be easier said than done, but there are ways around it - in this instance Direct Debit can make the difference.
It can be surprisingly straightforward to set up Direct Debit. While banks usually only provide Direct Debit collection facilities to bigger companies with a high turnover, it’s possible for smaller businesses, anything from nurseries to accountants, to partner with third-party payment processors to take advantage of the Direct Debit system. Fees tend to be fairly low – generally lower than processing debit or credit card payments – and once you’ve signed up Direct Debits are easy to set up and maintain, giving you more control over payment collection.
For small businesses, Direct Debit can provide convenience and peace of mind and – perhaps most importantly – can reduce the amount of time and money spent chasing late payments and arrears, as well as positively impacting cash flow. But what’s in it for the other party?
A ‘win-win’ for all?
The truth is that Direct Debit can be a win-win solution for everyone involved. For your customers, they have the convenience of knowing that once the Direct Debit is authorised, payments will be collected automatically from the designated account without them having to lift a finger. It’s worth remembering that not all late payments are deliberately or wilfully withheld – sometimes the customer might just have forgotten to make the payment, or may have been ill or otherwise unable to meet their commitments. Direct Debit avoids such issues by deducting funds directly on the agreed date.
Some customers may be reluctant to sign up for payment collection by Direct Debit, perhaps due to a misconception that it gives companies a free pass to take whatever they want, whenever they want. In reality, the Direct Debit scheme offers customers substantial protections and transparency compared to some other payment methods. Customers will be notified 3-10 working days in advance of any change to the payment amount, date or frequency; they are also covered by the Direct Debit Guarantee, which promises a no-quibble immediate refund of any amount that is collected in error.
When properly informed, many customers can see the advantages in payment collection by Direct Debit. So, consider whether 2018 should be the year when you start saying “no” to late payments, and switch to a collection method that gives you back control of your cash flow and your business.
This post was written by London and Zurich, who help Small Businesses manage their direct debit payments.